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For the Relief of Unbearable Urges

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  1,974 ratings  ·  219 reviews
One of the most stunning literary debuts of our time, these energized, irreverent, and deliciously inventive stories introduce an astonishing new talent.

In the collection's hilarious title story, a Hasidic man gets a special dispensation from his rabbi to see a prostitute. "The Wig" takes an aging wigmaker and makes her, for a single moment, beautiful. In "The Tumblers," E
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Paperback, 205 pages
Published March 21st 2000 by Vintage (first published 1999)
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Cheryl
This book of short stories is about tradition, obligation, and external sources as meaning to our lives. I've been thinking about choices made under the umbrella of the first two, and personal responsibility for the last, and realize how many of our major decisions to marry, to follow in a well-worn professional path, our choice of friends, and life's meaning are based on religious mandates. How we measure up determines our perceived levels of guilt or happiness, our self-esteem or negative judg ...more
Jan Rice
Meeting a new author via short stories isn't ideal for me. So on reading the first two in this collection I thought I was in for a slog. First, a group martyred by Stalin, and second, one martyred by Nazis. Terrible--but I didn't know them well enough to feel it in my bones. On the other hand maybe I hadn't warmed sufficiently to the author to let him make me feel. The next story is about this charming but shallow manic-depressive screw-up who's always complaining it isn't his fault: things are ...more
Jean-Paul
I recently chanced across this volume of short stories in a second hand book shop in Geneva. The title caught my eye and sounded promising. So did the description of these nine tales revolving around all aspects of Jewish life. I was put off though by the superlatives on the jacket, but I thought I would read it all the same. Media review hype always makes me wary... Englander can write there is no question about that. However, there is nothing “heart-wrenching” or “hilarious” about what he writ ...more
Reese
Revised: 4/21/2015

Readers of Nathan Englander's For the Relief of Unbearable Urges may find that some/most of the stories are linked by the role that luck plays in our lives and by our amazing uses of creative powers to handle what feels "unbearable" and by the lengths to which we may go to stop being or feeling victimized. However, mortification (whether hidden or in plain view) is, I maintain, what makes all of the stories in the collection a gathering of distant cousins, if not close relative
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John Jeffire
This guy's first book? Damn, I'm jealous. If you only read two of these stories, I recommend "The Twenty-seventh Man" and "The Tumblers." These stories are remarkable for their historical sense of authenticity. I believe in the characters Bretzky and Zunser and Korinsky, and I am fully in emotional harmony with the idiot savant Pelovitz. Englander said of this story that the rounding up of 26 Yiddish authors did occur and he has take the liberty to bring this tale to life and add in Pelovitz to ...more
Maddy
This is an incredible collection of short stories about Jews. The first one didn't just make me cry - I sobbed. All of the stories were good, several were splendid and heart-wrenching. Each one felt like a tiny novel rather than a short story.

Each story somehow related to my own history (I am the child of a father who was a concentration camp inmate and a mother who was a first generation new yorker brought up on the lower east side of Manhattan whose first language was yiddish). I'm sure that w
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Judy
A great collection of short stories revolving around aspects of Jewish life. Each main character and each story offers a different perspective. The reader gets the opportunity to see through the eyes of a rabbi, young people, elderly people, the suffering and the crazy. I loved the variety this book offered, the different settings, different walks of life and most of all the humor. This is my first book by Nathan Englander and will not be my last!

4.5 stars
adam
OK I'll say it: you've GOT to read this. But let me qualify that by mentioning that you might not get it if you're not (sigh) Jewish. I think it was Will Smith who said, "Take it from me, gentiles just don't understand." In spite of the Semitic tag, Nathan Englander is as good a young writer as any I can think of. I hope his debut novel which just came out is as good as this. Tremendous short fiction.
James
Another splendid collection of Short stories, reading these is like taking a heavenly bath in great writing.
Stuart
The stories here aren't character driven as much as they are idea driven. Some of the ideas are brilliant. The setting is always deeply Jewish, but I think those who don't have an understanding of Orthodox Jewish culture can still strongly identify with the lives of the people portrayed. Englander owes a deep debt to Bernard Malamud in a good way. He may well be his worthy successor.

These stories often begin with a bang. Englander doesn't waste time on setting. Some of these stories had me smil
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Wendell
The reviews (three pages of them inside the book itself) are not so much positive as they are rapturous -- and I just don't get it. In most of these stories, nothing happens. Lots and lots of physical description and carefully wrought details and painstaking scene-setting ... and virtually no there, there. It's Fabergé fiction, literary short stories as netsuke. I don't know why I continue to be shocked that so much of the fiction that is rewarded today (with publication, with major reviews, wit ...more
Ann Doherty
Some of the stories are very funny, especially the one about the middle-aged New York businessman who discovers his Jewish soul in a taxi cab. And the one about the wigmaker. Ludicrous set-ups, yet very poignant and (I found) easy to relate to and universal. The first two, about Russians being deported to concentration camps, are gut wrenching. The last one about living in Israel and surviving a bomb attack was the only one I didn't like, the style and sentiments seemed a bit contrived, even tho ...more
Moshe
Really good collection of stories- all rooted in Jewish ways. I read most, not all. One of the them - the 27th Man- I just saw as a play at the Old Globe while I was reading other stories in the book. The cover story re: unbearable urges was pretty funny.

From Goodreads:
In Englander's amazingly taut and ambitious " The Twenty-seventh Man, " a clerical error lands earnest, unpublished Pinchas Pelovits in prison with twenty-six writers slated for execution at Stalin's command, and in the grip of to
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Paul Cockeram
Nathan Englander publishes only a couple of story collections per decade. The fact that he is an international darling of Jewish literature suggests that his work makes up in quality what it lacks in quantity. And there is indeed a richness and complexity to these stories that bears out the time and labor Englander apparently put into them. Even the order of the pieces throughout the collection suggests careful deliberation, with significant themes and motifs carrying through from one story to t ...more
Jaime
I have zero patience for short stories. But a friend stood in a bookstore, and handed me this. I opened it and the first thing I saw was a perfect sentence. So I bought it.

The sentences are so well crafted that when I stumbled on one that was less than succinct halfway through it stood out. I stopped, analyzed it, and realized it was probably different intentionally -- since it was an entirely different emotional frame for the person in the story.

And yes, I'm deep in the study of such matters a
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Corey
Normally, I can’t get through an entire book of short stories. However, this is my second one by Nathan Englander and I read each cover to cover in a day or 3-4 sittings. These stories really speak to me for some reason. Each one is kind of Seinfeld-y in that they are about nothing and have no plot. But each one ends up being quite a good way to frame a universal existential dilemma or two. Some of the dilemmas may be more Jewish than universal, and some may be more Orthodox than just Jewish, bu ...more
Ann
This collection of beautifully written short stories surprised me. Some are quite humorous ("Reb Kringle" being my favorite of these), with a droll sensibility pervading the majority. However, three of the stories are deadly serious, with subject matter ranging from the horrors of WWII to the modern-day prevalence of terrorism in Jerusalem.I expect to be haunted by "The Tumblers" for some time to come, especially by the heart-breaking final paragraph.
Diane S.
There is no question that this author can write. Maybe I was a bit handicapped because I know and understand even less about the orthodox Jews. The first two stories were a bit dark but humorous at the same time, as if the author knows you can only have so much darkness before light. The rest of the books and the stories were a little easier, I particularly liked the story, "The Wig".
ethan
it's hard to find much fault with for the relief of unbearable urges. i suppose the book is not particularly original, in that most of its stories are third person omniscient narration, structured around a traditional story arc of one sort or another, populated with realist characters and problems. but i don't care! the book is spectacularly well-written. the stories unfold at an unhurried pace, yet never bore. they are funny, yet poignant; specific, yet universal.

for me, the best tales in the l
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Kathe
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Brett
englander reads like a much older person from a much older time. the picture on the back of the book didn't correspond, for me, with the words inside it. which is, i think, what made how much i enjoyed this collection such a pleasant surprise. favorite stories: the tumblers, the wig, the gilgul of park avenue, the last one way, in this way we are wise.
Jenie
Mar 30, 2014 Jenie rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: meh
A little Nathan Englander goes a long, LONG way. I should leave this in my currently reading list, but it's a book of short stories, I've read half of it, and frankly, I can't imagine any of the remaining stories will cause me to suddenly fall in love with Englander. Maybe I'd like this more if I were Jewish (and probably orthodox), but I don't know or understand enough about the Jewish faith to grasp the significance of varying degrees of each of his stories, and Englander isn't bothered by tha ...more
Diana
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Susanna Parker
I wasn't quite prepared for this book. I thought it was a collection of humorous short stories (like Dave Sedaris, but more fictional) and that's not it at all. Even the "hilarious" title story is just sad. All these stories are about people grieving, people watching the world change without them, people feeling the constraints of strict religion on their lives. Also, that should be mentioned - every character is Jewish. Which is interesting, and a good theme to wrap a series of stories around. ...more
Elizabeth
Having read Englander's extraordinary short story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank" in the New Yorker a few years back, and being turned on by the title of this collection, I had high hopes that weren't entirely dashed by this book. The titular story, for instance, is brilliant, and some of the fantastic elements of basically all of his stories blend a Kafka-esque satire with a bawdy humor in ways that make Englander's voice and style feel both smart and unique. Despite all of t ...more
Judy
The first couple of stories are brilliant, but I got less enthusiastic as the book went on.
Ezra
Jan 26, 2009 Ezra rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: jews
the chelm story alone makes this a classic and brilliant collection, and the rest are great, too.
Leah
Impressive unpacking of often hidden stories. Compelling, rich, unexpected.
Laura
Disappointing
Ivonne Lorraine Garcia
I am not familiar with jewish literature or writers, so this came as a nice recommendation from a friend. I have to admit, reading it was kind of hard, not being familiar with some of the traditions and jargon of all jewish things, but the book had interesting narratives and catchy subjects. Some tales went into very dark directions, some others were funny or had you gasping at the ending. My favorite one was the one about the writers, maybe because I could relate to it, maybe because there was ...more
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Nathan Englander is a Jewish-American author born in Long Island, NY in 1970. He wrote the short story collection, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., in 1999. The volume won widespread critical acclaim, earning Englander the 2000 PEN/Faulkner Malamud Award and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Sue Kauffman Prize, and established him as an important write ...more
More about Nathan Englander...
What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank The Ministry of Special Cases The Twenty-seventh Man: A Short Story from For the Relief of Unbearable Urges The Tumblers: A Short Story from For the Relief of Unbearable Urges For the Relief of Unbearable Urges: Stories

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“The Jewish day begins in the calm of evening, when it won't shock the system with its arrival.” 2 likes
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